This music is not pretty. It’s definitely not pop. But we're paying attention.
Listeners familiar with the 1981 original will find a lot to love on this polished, crisply produced reissue of the Mothmen’s only full album, Pay Attention! The short-lived but much-beloved English new wave outfit is highly representative of its era, sampling a variety of late '70s British musical trends while somehow transcending them all. It’s all here: the cold, relentless post-punk often described as “angular", the Caribbean dub sound, the working class anger. What makes the Mothmen special, though, is their endless, fearless experimentation. This is not a band afraid of alienating its audience.
“Afghan Farmer Driving Cattle” is a deceptively quiet album opener, an unsettling lead in for the funky animosity of “Animal Animaux". “Not Moving” takes a half-assed stab at punk rock attitude, but it reads like a sigh of resignation before the weirdly jaunty, industrial dub-Kraftwerk vibe of “Factory / Teapoint / Factory". “Please Let Go” proves that the Mothmen can churn out a darkly frothy dance tune with the best of them (until the cacophonic breakdown, that is), and “Tardis (Sweep Is Dead, Long Live Sweep)” is as psychedelic and meandering as a trip on its namesake.
“Mothman” clocks in at a punishing 20 minutes of bleak ambient sounds over a rumbling rhythm section, and “Change Direction” is a fun little ditty for the end of the consumerist world, recalling the pop/punk/dub sound made popular by Gang of Four. “Vegetable Man” is a British Invasion-flavored nightmare confection for those who like a little howling angst with their Boomer nostalgia. The album’s breakout single “Does It Matter Irene” at least resembles a rock song, with ethereal synths and growling vocals—that is, until it frustrates attempts to find a traditional hook and adds a liberal dollop of crazed shrieking. This is new wave in a blender, dance-pop of the damned, and it’s thrilling.
“Return of the Mozabites” manages to make the ocarina sound downright menacing, and its driving toms swell like gouts of blood from a wound, then cease abruptly. Trance-inducing synths and chanting make “Paintings of a Cave” is as shamanic as its title suggests. These short bursts of demented songs that close out Pay Attention! are like photos of some off-kilter parallel universe where Reagan and Thatcher declared themselves co-dictators for life. “Afghani Dub", a remix of the opening track, slinks in on a syncopated rhythm, combining Caribbean instrumentation with plenty of doomjazz atmosphere. It’s like Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros on heroin, a black pit of despair lurking under a B-side from the Clash’s Sandinista! In other words, it’s awesome.
The tracks on offer here capture the experimental spirit of the band and give new listeners a taste of what the Mothmen can do -- if you like the Fall but think they’re too commercial, this is the band for you. Here’s hoping the reissue introduces the Mothmen to a new generation of post-punk fans. We need more music this jagged, challenging, and gleefully absurd in the world.